If you’re looking for a little out-of-the-ordinary family entertainment you will find it when Gregory Popovich and his adorable rescued pets from animal shelters take center stage for two shows at the Keswick Theatre on Sunday, Feb. 17.
His show, called the Comedy & Pet Theatre, features animal tricks and juggling and acrobatics along with lots of plain clowning round, said Popovich, who developed his performing talents at the famed Moscow Circus School.
“Actually, I represent four generations of Russian circus performers,” Popovich said. “My mother worked with dogs, so I grew up with them and even helped my mother train them. For me, it was not a job but a lifestyle working with pets.”
Juggling was his primary form of circus entertainment when he started out. He went on to become an award-winning star of the Moscow Circus and a World Champion juggler. Popovich came to the United States in 1991 at the invitation of Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus.
“It was then I started working on my own show,” he recalled, “beginning with just one kitty and one dog. It was easy to make the transition because I try to do clowning, and am into physical comedy, as well. So that was my break from classical juggling to trained pets.”
His pets now perform many tricks — from juggling to acrobatics to flying through the air. Today, Popovich’s shelter stars have grown from one cat and one dog, to eight dogs and 14 cats.
“Yes,” he said with a smile, “we have a really big family now.”
Coming from Russia, Popovich was unaware that animal shelters existed. “We don’t have such a thing in my country. But when I came to this country and started looking around for pets to train, some of my American friends asked why I did not visit a shelter to find them. That was pretty exciting for me.
“But then I found out how some of these pets came to these shelters and I began to understand that many people don’t realize how responsible they should be for their pets, what being a master of pets means.
“Perhaps they get a pet for a boy or a girl,” he continued. “They buy a puppy and later realize someone has to walk it, or they make trouble, so they send it back to the shelter. Or they move from an old apartment to a new one. There are many reasons but some aren’t very good ones, especially when people use pets simply as part of the furniture or as a toy.
“That’s my message during my show. I try to tell the audience to see pets as having their own personalities and feelings, and that we should respect them all.”
When it comes to selecting animals for the show, Popovich practices what he preaches: ”Just like any animal, every pet has a special quirky little thing they like to do to show unique parts of their personality to their owners. This is what makes them who they are. I take advantage of this and try to develop the natural traits of each animal according to what they already like to do best. I never do anything against the nature of the animal, against his temperament. And, of course, I give them lots of love.”
After the show, Popovich, accompanied by some of his pets, will meet and greet audience members in the theater’s lobby.
“For me,” he said, “that’s one of the best parts of what I do. I bring out some of the animals so the children and the adults can pet them and, hopefully, realize they are living, breathing things that need a lot of care and a lot of love.” ••
For times and ticket information, call 215-572-7650.